Surviving the Fourth Trimester
‘But what exactly is the fourth trimester?’
Nicola, a hypnobirthing teacher and founder of Get Birth Confident gives us the lowdown on this challenging time!
The 4th trimester is the first 3 months of a baby’s life. That period of time when they’re adjusting to life outside the womb and you’re adjusting to caring for this tiny human that relies on you for every aspect of their survival.
The composition of our breastmilk means that it’s easily digested and therefore human babies need feeding little and often. This means babies wake regularly to feed, which helps protect them from SIDS.
Newborn babies don’t know that they’re separate from us so if we just pop out of the room, they feel like they’ve lost a limb. They also have no concept of time, so they don’t know if we’ve been gone a minute or a day. They’re hardwired for survival, so seek to be close to us at all times.
And as for you, the grown ups? You’re recovering from birth, you’re sleep-deprived and you’re adjusting to your new role as the parent of a gorgeous baby that can’t bear to be apart from you.
As you may have gathered, the fourth trimester can be pretty full on. But it does help to be prepared. Check out Nicola’s survival guide for some pointers…
1. Write a postnatal plan
We’ve all heard of a birth plan but what about a postnatal plan? The idea of the postnatal plan is that you take the time in pregnancy to consider those immediate days and weeks after birth rather than trying to make decisions when you’re exhausted and consumed with caring for your newborn baby.
Things you may want to include in your postnatal plan could be:
- your stance on visitors – who, when, any ground rules you want to set out
- a list of meals you can batch cook in advance and pop in the freezer
- the things you might need support with and who could help you with them e.g. household chores, childcare for older children, breastfeeding support, emotional support
- expectations around your partner’s role
- self-care measures you intend to set time aside for e.g. sitz bath, a daily walk, 5 minutes to drink a hot cuppa
2. Manage your expectations about newborn baby behaviour
Looking after a newborn is so much easier when you know what to expect and when you understand what is normal for a newborn. I highly recommend reading up on newborn sleep. There is a wonderful book called ‘The Gentle Sleep Book’ by Sarah Ockwell-Smith which perfectly sums up what you might expect from babies with regards to sleep, why they sleep like that and then some practical tips for supporting your baby and yourself. A great Instagram account to follow for tips is @lyndsey_hookway.
The same goes for breastfeeding. Understanding things like cluster feeding and feeding on demand in advance can really help to prepare you for the initial weeks when all your baby wants to do is feed. There are some great books like ‘The Positive Breastfeeding Book’ by Amy Brown plus there are some fantastic Instagram accounts like @nomilklikemamas.
In my experience, understanding typical newborn behaviour is the key to acceptance. And acceptance will more likely bring you peace.
3. Get a sling
I cannot recommend a sling enough. A sling is one of the few essential newborn purchases in my opinion, my favourite is a stretchy wrap. These take a bit of practice to tie initially but after a few goes, it becomes easy. Babies like to be close to us and you can’t get much closer than snuggled in against your chest. They love the physical contact, your smell and the reassurance of your heartbeat. Being this close can also help regulate their temperature and heart rate. Plus they can be rocked to sleep while you get on and do things – hands free!
4. Go to bed early
It’s no secret that newborn babies wake frequently throughout the night which can be pretty exhausting. So what you really want to do is think about how you can maximise your total sleep in a 24 hour period.
Now I’m not one of those people who gives the advice to “sleep when baby sleeps”. For a lot of new parents whose baby will only sleep on them, that advice is pretty irritating.
My preferred way of maximising sleep is to go to bed really early. I’m talking 7 or 8pm. Now this does require you to sacrifice your evening chill time for a few months, but in order for you to feel more human, it can be well worth it. If your situation allows, leaving baby downstairs with the other parent or a trusted relative/friend can be a great way for you to get some deeper sleep before the first wake up. But otherwise, you can have baby sleeping next to you.
On the days when you have a support person around too, be sure to grab the opportunity for a nap.
5. Find your parent crew
Finding yourself a mum squad or others going through the newborn days at the same time can feel like a lifeline. Meeting up to share how tired you are or having someone to message in the middle of the night can be invaluable. A good place to find your gang is at an antenatal course, baby groups or even strolling in the park. If you find these situations tricky, you’re not alone and lots of people feel like that. Other options available these days are apps like Mush or Peanut which allow you to find and connect with local mums with similar age children or shared interests.
So there you have it, Nicola’s top 5 tips for surviving the fourth trimester. It can be a really challenging part of parenthood but just remember, nothing lasts forever. A mantra you might want to repeat to yourself on those days when you’re struggling is “everything is a phase”. You’ll suddenly wake up one day and realise you’re through the fourth trimester and wonder where your tiny baby has gone.
Hypnobirthing convert and Mum of two, Nicola, is the founder of Get Birth Confident. After a difficult first birth, she wanted to try a new approach for her second. So undertook a hypnobirthing course and found her calling! Nicola is now sharing her passion, by helping families through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
She runs monthly online Hypnobirthing courses, you can find out more here – https://www.getbirthconfident.com/online-group-hypnobirthing-courses
Follow Nicola on Instagram for more pregnancy, birth and postnatal chat – @getbirthconfident